Saturday, May 24, 2014

Failure To Thrive

Frederick II was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability. He was king of Sicily and Germany during the first half of the 13th century. He was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1220. Frederick is considered by modern historians to be the most gifted, vivid and extraordinary of the medieval Holy Roman Emperors.

Frederick astonished his contemporaries who called him stupor mundi, ‘wonder of the world’.  His court blended Norman, Arabic and Jewish elements.  He was witty, entertaining and cruel in six different languages, Latin, Sicilian, German, French, Greek and Arabic.  He was a man of serious intellectual distinction, and he was friendly with Jewish and Muslim sages.  He encouraged scholarship, poetry and mathematics, and original thinking in all areas.

Frederick’s openness to ideas kept him at odds with the Roman Catholic Church. His demands that the Church renounce its wealth and return to apostolic poverty and simplicity did not sit well with the papacy and its supporters, who branded him as Antichrist. He was excommunicated not once but four times.

Frederick was an avid patron of science and the arts. He had an unlimited thirst for knowledge and learning, and considered himself to be an equal of the scientific minds of his times. He carried out a number of cruel experiments on people.

I recently watched a video presentation by Ty Gibson titled, ‘Frederick’s Experiment’. In it he tells of one of these cruel experiments. The purpose of the experiment was to discover what language children would naturally grow up to speak if they were never spoken to.

King Frederick took babies from their mothers at birth and placed them in the care of nurses who were forbidden to speak in the babies hearing. Along with the prohibition on speaking, a second rule was imposed. The nurses were not allowed to touch the infants other than to clean or feed them. To his great dismay, Frederick’s experiment was cut short without finding out what language the babies would speak. The babies grew up to speak no language at all because they died. In the year 1248, an Italian historian named Salimbene di Adam recorded, “They could not live without petting.” The babies literally died for want of touch.

Modern medicine calls this phenomenon, “failure to thrive.” For some reason, we humans flourish under the influence of love and we gradually die without it. Dr. Dean Ornish in his national best seller, Love and Survival, presents study after study demonstrating that love is a chief influence for mental, emotional, and even physical health. He says, “The scientific evidence . . . leaves little doubt that love and intimacy are powerful determinants of our health and survival. Why they have such an impact remains somewhat a mystery”

The problem for many scientists is that they are trying to understand the human need for love within the context of Darwinian evolution. Evolution begins with a survival-of-the-fittest premise; it states that self-preservation is the highest law and the main factor in our survival. Love, is self-giving rather than self-preserving, and, therefore, makes no sense in the evolutionary context.

If evolution is the truth of human origins, then human beings are merely biological animals and there is no such thing as love. And yet, here we are; creatures who thrive on love and are utterly dependent on it. Every human has a desire to love and be loved.

We can’t help but ask the question at some point: What is that something more that we so desperately long for? In 1 John 4:16 the Bible tells us that “God is love”. And in Genesis 1:27 it states that, “God made mankind in His own image”.

Scientist may feel that the reason that love and intimacy have such an effect on our health and survival is a mystery, but I don’t. God made us to love and be loved.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Voyage to Tarshish

In Matt 21:28-31, Jesus tells a parable. A father had two sons. He went to the first and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "No." But later he felt bad and went and did as his father had told him. The father then went to his second son and said, "Go work in my vineyard." The son said, "Yes." But he didn't actually go. Jesus asked, "Which son did the will of his father?"

The answer was: The first son, the one that actually went and worked into the vineyard.

There could easily have been a third son in this parable: The father says, "Go work in my vineyard." The son says, "No." There's a discussion between father and son and in the end the son says, "Fine! I'll go and work in your stupid vineyard. Now quit pestering me."

He's the son who gives grudging obedience, half-hearted obedience. That's Jonah. We have all heard the story of Jonah.  He was swallowed by a whale and lived to tell about it.

The Lord called Jonah to Nineveh, but instead he runs away to Tarshish, a great and wealthy city on the coast of Spain. It is about as far to the west as most Israelites have ever ventured, while Nineveh is about as far to the east as most Israelites have ever gone. Nineveh is a great city and the fiercest enemy of Jonah’s people, so Jonah is afraid and wants to be completely away from this calling and from anyone who may be inclined to go on this ill-fated adventure.

The Bible tells us that the Lord threw an intense wind at the sea. The violence of the storm put Jonah’s ship in jeopardy of breaking apart. The sailors panicked! They started running back and forth, throwing cargo overboard to lighten the boat; every man, out of desperation, cried to his own deity.

The sailors said, You know what we should do? We should cast lots to find out who is ultimately responsible for our distress!  So they cast their lots, and Jonah’s name was chosen.

The sailors said to Jonah, “What have you done? Because of you, we’re all going to be killed.”  What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?

Jonah answered, God is using the sea to punish me, so pick me up and throw me into the sea! Then the sea will grow calm again, and you’ll be safe! This is all my fault! This great storm of my God’s anger has built against you because of me!

At that, they grabbed Jonah by his arms and legs and threw him overboard. And when they did, the raging sea grew calm.

God didn't let Jonah die. He chose a large fish to swallow Jonah; for three days and three nights the prophet Jonah sat safely inside the belly of this fish.  Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and the fish threw up Jonah onto the dry land.

Why did Jonah disobey God and take a voyage to Tarshish?  Jonah was a prophet and received messages directly from God.  You would think that when God said, “Get up, go to the great city of Nineveh”, that Jonah – the prophet – would obey.  So why didn't Jonah go?

Ninevah was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Israel's direct enemy. If there was one nationality that Israel hated and wanted to wipe off the face of the Earth, it was the Assyrians. The Assyrians were powerful, destructive, and ruthless with any nation getting in their way.

Why did Jonah run?  Why didn't he obey God? Because he is guilty of what many if not all of us have done, pass judgment.

Jonah set himself up as a judge against Assyria. He had been given a message of warning from God himself, but he determined that the Ninevites are not worthy of this message.  Assyria was not worthy to be saved.

The command to get  up and go is the same message that we find in the great commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28:19,20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus has told us to get up and go.  Where are you going?  Are you on the road to Nineveh or on a voyage to Tarshish?  We have been given a message to spread around the world, but we have failed. We have passed judgment on many of those around us. We say "they don't deserve the love of God; they don't deserve my time, because they are no good.

When we decide that certain people groups aren't worthy of our time, aren't worthy of the good news of salvation, we are boarding a boat for Tarshish.  When we hate any people groups we are saying that they aren't worthy of God’s love or his salvation.

I’m afraid that the reason we don’t want to travel to Nineveh and give the good news is that we are afraid that God might actually save the people we don’t like.  That was apparently a factor in Jonah’s decision to take a voyage to Tarshish.

In Jonah 4:2 Jonah shows his true feelings as he talks to God.  “God, isn't this what I said would happen when I was still in my own country? This is exactly the reason I ran away to Tarshish in the first place. I know how You are! I know that You are not like other gods, that You are full of grace and compassion, that it takes a lot to make You angry, and that Your loyal love is so great that You are always ready to relent from inflicting misery”.

Are we afraid that God is so full of grace and compassion, and that His love is so great that he might extend salvation to those we don’t want to associate with?

When God asks you to get up and go, what are you going to do?  Are you going to head to Nineveh even though it is an evil city, or are you going to take a voyage to Tarshish?


On March 19th, Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church died. He was known as a preacher of hate.  His followers were known for their opposition to homosexuality and for picketing the funerals of soldiers.  They believe that God kills soldiers to punish a nation that tolerates homosexuality. They would picket soldiers funerals with signs that read, “God Hates Fags,” “God Hates You,” and “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.”

After Pastor Phelps death I did see some hateful comments and Facebook posts, but I saw something else that surprised me.  One prominent homosexual leader said, “I believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. I pray for [him] and his family just as I pray for those he harmed".

Another mentioned that instead of celebrating the death of Phelps, he recognized that Fred Phelps had a family who loved him and would be sadly missed by many people. And that even though there were strong disagreements with Phelps on many levels, there would be no gloating or rejoicing over his death.

Two days after Pastor Phelps died his followers picketed at 17-year-old singer Lorde’s show in Kansas.  Counter demonstrators unraveled a banner that said ‘sorry for your loss’ as a response to their ex-leader’s death.

In a blog post titled A Time for Tolerance, Pastor John Bradshaw addressed the passing of Pastor Phelps with these words.

"Some Christians—who by definition must subscribe to Jesus’ teachings regarding manifesting love towards others—find it impossible to love homosexuals, or to demonstrate toward them even a modicum of tolerance or kindness. I suspect some of this has to do with the Internet age: it is easy to be hateful when you might be geographically removed from the object of your scorn, and the expression of your vitriol is conducted via a computer keyboard. But many Christians—and I recognize that ‘many’ certainly does not equal ‘all’—treat homosexuality with a special type of hatred, and homosexuals as the worst of sinners.

There is little wonder that many people are turned off by Christianity when they witness “Christians” treating others with hatred and scorn. One prominent British personality has stated publicly that he could never be a Christian because Christians are so brutally unkind to those with whom they disagree.

I’m certainly not advocating or excusing homosexuality. As I read the Bible I see homosexuality as being contrary to the will of God. But so is dishonesty. So is pride. So is lying. And so is being hateful. In expressing hate towards gays, many “Christians” are guilty of a sin towards which God cannot—and will not—turn a blind eye.

As hard as it may be, God calls Christians—commands Christians—to love everyone.  And until we do, we are no better than those we criticize and condemn".

Pastor Daniel Darling states, "we must not allow our protest against values with which we disagree to overshadow our responsibility to show Christ's love for the world. It may very well be the person who offends us the most whom God is in the process of saving. And our gracious response might be the bridge that the Spirit uses to usher him from death to life".

Let’s follow the example of Jesus and love sinners and hate the sin in our own lives. John, the disciple that Jesus loved, tells us in 1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love”.


One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to go to the roof. A fireman stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see was flame, smoke, and blackness.  He was afraid to leave the roof. The fireman kept yelling: "Jump! I will catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

In life each one of us finds ourselves in the same situation as the young boy on the roof.  We will be destroyed unless we do something. If we stay in our current situation we will be destroyed by fire.  The biggest question in our lives is, what must I do to be saved.  In the little boy’s situation the answer was jump.  What is the answer in your life?

In Matthew 19 the Bible tells us that a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  The first thing Jesus told him was keep the commandments.  The man said to Jesus, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

This man asked the all-important question – What must I do to be saved?  But notice how he asked the question.  The way he worded the question tells us a lot about him.  What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?  I think that many of us can relate to this man. I’m leading a pretty good life.  What other good thing do I need to do to be saved?

The man wasn't expecting that kind of answer he got. He liked the “limited realm” of righteousness where people stop doing things. He was good at it.  He stepped back when Jesus pointed him to the “continuous realm” of righteousness where there is no limit and no end of really caring for other people.

Many of us are very uncomfortable with this whole concept of being a Christian as Jesus explained it. We tend to be Pharisees by nature. We are very happy with negative approaches to law because we like to know where the limits are.

We feel more comfortable when we can see the extent of our obligations. Jesus wants us to see that his true followers aren't trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.  He taught this lesson to Peter in Matthew 18. “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Rabbinical law said that you were to forgive three times.  Peter thought he was really expanding on that.   Jesus told him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”.   Once again, Jesus points out that his true followers aren't trying to see what the limits of their obligations are.

In actuality Peter was not asking “How much can I love my neighbor?” but “When can I stop loving my neighbor?” That’s a very human question. I like that question. When can I stop loving my neighbor? That is where we are as natural people.

When can I stop all this niceness and give people what they deserve? I don’t like grace. Grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. I don’t mind getting it, but I don’t really like passing grace on to others.

Jesus taught Peter that there is never a time when he could stop loving his neighbor or stop passing on God’s grace. Jesus taught that there is no limit to Christian love.  Like Peter, we are much more comfortable with the negative than the positive approach to law. We want to know when we have fulfilled our quota of goodness so we can relax and be our normal selves.

How I treat my neighbor is the acid test of Christianity. Out of that principle comes a meaningful keeping of God’s laws.  Because I love my neighbor, I will not covet my neighbor’s car, house, wife, or husband. Because I love my neighbor, I cannot use him or her as a sexual object for my own pleasure.  Because I love my neighbor, I will not take things that belong to him. Because I love my neighbor, I will not kill or even hate him.

Love to God and neighbor is the centerpiece of Christianity.  “By this,” said Jesus, “all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Let’s go back to the story of the boy on the roof.   The fireman called to the boy, "Jump! I'll catch you." But the boy protested, “I can't see you." The fireman replied, "But I can see you and that's all that matters."

What must I do to be saved?  I need to trust Jesus so much that I will jump into his arms.  He can’t save me if I don’t trust him enough to jump.  He can’t save me if I am busy trying to save myself.

It’s time for us to really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Believe enough to surrender our will and jump into his arms.  Will you jump with me today?